The Igbo-Igala Borderland
Religion and Social Control in Indigenous African Colonialism
This ethno-historical survey of the northern Nsukka borderland examines particularly one method of African colonial control. When, in the late eighteenth century, the Igala conquered the indigenous Igbo, they gained and held social control through monopoly of certain religious positions. However, despite conscious effort to maintain Igala religious lineages, these gradually became Igbonized. In delineating this religious-social control, Professor Shelton describes extensively border conditions and the nature of Igbo life in the Nsukka area. He dwells particularly on the Igbo religious framework which includes well-disposed, beneficent spirits and more capricious and potentially more hostile outside spirits called alusi. The invading Igala installed their own men as priests, or attama, to the dangerous alusi, thereby becoming the sole mediators between these spirits and the Igbo. Since the attama also controlled most divination, which is employed to explain any unclear or mysterious phenomenon, there was no essential social activity the Igala attama could not influence.
Professor Shelton shows how the Igbo attempted to circumvent the alusi worship by emphasizing various aspects of familial worship (of the ancestors, the High God, Earth), but how this attempt failed because these essentially friendly beings did not require propitiation while it was demanded by the alusi. On the other hand, although the Igala attempted to keep the attama lineages Igala, these families gradually formed so many connections with Igbo families that they eventually Igbonized even though they retained a nominal Igala identification.
Professor Shelton's description of religious activity in the borderland is clear and original. He makes extensive use of material gathered in the field, particularly oral transmissions, and pays marked attention to linguistic clues for information. In extended descriptions of religious ceremonies, Professor Shelton provides evidence that the social control maneuvers of both the Igala and the Igbo are revealed in the content of their prayers.
An appendix gives important material concerning the origin of these borderland people and a glossary of Igbo terms provides diacritical marks to aid pronunciation of these words which have little standard orthography. The work is also supplemented with maps, charts, and photographs.
Austin J. Shelton is Professor of African Studies at State University College, New Paltz. He was awarded his bachelor's degree and his doctorate by St. Louis University, where he began his teaching career. He was later a Professor and Assistant Dean at Mercy College, Detroit. As senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from 1961-64, Professor Shelton was able to make a detailed ethnographical study of the northern Nsukka borderland area, a study which included the Igbo, Igala, and Okpoto peoples and languages. Professor Shelton is the author of The African Assertion: A Critical Anthology of Modern African Literature.